Rowan trees, also known as mountain ash, are deciduous, berrying trees in the Sorbus genus (including Sorbus aucuparia). They bear attractive spring blossom followed by bright red or yellow berries, against a backdrop of fresh green, pinnate leaves. Many of them are suitable for growing in small gardens, and some varieties have spectacular autumn foliage. Their flowers are visited by pollinators and their berries are an important source of autumn fuel for birds such as blackbirds and robins. They make good screening trees if you want to hide an ugly building or a bit of privacy from neighbours.
How to grow a rowan tree
Grow your rowan in a fertile, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Water regularly in the first two years to help it become established, and stake it to prevent root-rock.
Where to grow a rowan tree
Rowan trees do best in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Plant your rowan at the back of a border or make a feature of one in a lawn.
How to plant a rowan tree
Plant bare-root trees between November and March, and pot-grown trees any time of year unless the soil is frozen. Dig a square hole and remove weed roots. Fork the soil to make it pliable. Place the tree in the planting hole and check its depth – ensure it sits at the same level it was in the ground or in its pot, for bare-root plants look for the 'soil tide mark' towards the base of the stem. Once you're satisfied with the depth, fill around the roots with soil until the hole is filled, and firm gently. Water well.
Add a tree stake to prevent root rock, this will need to be in pace for around two years.
More like this
How to care for a rowan tree
Rowans need very little attention after they've become established. Water in very dry weather and mulch annually with well-rotted horse manure or compost. You may need to cut back suckering shoots coming from the base of the tree. Prune out dead or damage stems from late autumn to spring.
Advice on buying rowan trees
- Make sure you have enough space to grow your rowan – some varieties can grow to 15m over 50 years
- Rowans are availble in garden centres but you'll find a wider range online or in specialist nurseries
- Remember that bare-root trees are much cheaper than pot-grown trees
Where to buy rowan trees
Varieties of rowan to grow
Sorbus aucuparia – our native rowan, this is an upright tree with clusters of white flowers in late spring, followed by orange-red berries in autumn and yellow autumn leaf colours.
Sorbus cashmiriana – this white-berried rowan can be grown as a large shrub or small tree. Attractive pink flowers in spring.
Sorbus ‘Eastern Promise’ – this is a small, rounded tree with white flowers and pink berries. It's autumn leaf colour is spectacular, too.
Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ – one of the most popular varieties for small gardens, 'Joseph Rock' has white flowers and yellow berries, with the added bonus of red and orange autumn leaf colours.
Frequently asked questions
Can I reduce the height of my rowan tree?
Rowan trees don't require routine pruning. They look best when allowed to maintain their natural shape and shouldn't, ideally, be cut back to reduce their height – it's better to grow a species that won’t outgrow your space. However, if you have a rowan that's growing too tall and there's no other option, you could reduce its height. The sooner you do this, the better.
Prune rowan trees in the dormant period between October and February. You shouldn't top the tree by removing the top of the central stem and the upper main branches, as this will damage the tree, cause decay and regrowth is likely to be vigorous. Instead, reduce the size of the crown by cutting branch tips back to suitable side shoots to control the size of the tree while maintaining its shape. Crown reduction is best undertaken by a professional tree surgeon.
Help! My rowan tree is dying.
Rowan trees are susceptible to several fungal diseases including coral spot, silver leaf, apple canker, honey fungus and fireblight. If your rowan is showing signs of leaves turning brown, branch dieback or bark splitting, it's possible that the tree has a fungal disease. Rowan ‘Joseph Rock’ is particularly susceptible to fireblight, so avoid this variety in areas where the fungal disease is prevalent. If you aren't sure what's wrong with your tree, consult a qualified arboriculturist who can advise you on the health of the tree and how best to care for it.
Why are there shrivelled brown leaves on my rowan tree?
Shrivelled brown leaves can be a sign of drought. When trees have insufficient water, they can develop brown leaf tips or brown margins to the leaves. To avoid this, plant rowan trees in moist but well-drained soil and keep young plants well-watered for up to three years, especially in hot, dry periods. Entire shoots browning and dying could indicate a fungal disease such as fireblight, coral spot or apple canker. Prune out infections, cutting back to healthy wood.